A field engagement strategy for COVID-19: How to adapt teacher education in this crisis environment

Our University of Kentucky College of Education leadership team has been communicating nearly around the clock via meetings, texts, calls etc. the last few weeks to respond to the Covid-19 crisis. Our leaders, faculty and staff have sought to be innovative to address the challenges of teacher education in this crisis. Margaret Mohr-Schroeder, UK College of Education Professor & Associate Dean, penned this excellent post on our UK strategy. She can be reacher at m.mohr@uky.edu (Don’t try to steal her to be the dean at your institution)

When the COVID-19 pandemic started taking hold stateside, our immediate concern turned to our students. At the University of Kentucky College of Education, like many colleges of education, about 75% of our students have some sort of field experience requirement within their coursework. As K-12 schools began to announce closings, our challenge was broad, yet simple – How can we continue to engage our students in the practice of teaching during uncertain times?

We first divided our students into different categories based on where the experience took place in their program (e.g., before admission to the teacher education program, after admission, student teaching). This helped provide structure for our tasks.

Initially, the university announced it would suspend in-person classes for the two weeks that followed Spring Break. Our first plan was written with the expectation that our students would eventually return to campus. However, due to growing concerns about the spread of the virus at the state and national levels and K-12 school closures, the university announced during spring break that it would move to online or alternative formats for classroom instruction for the remainder of the semester. We expected this could happen, and made some quick decisions. You can find our full plan here, but to recap:

  1. Field experiences were canceled for students not yet admitted into a teacher education program.
  2. For students who had been admitted to a teacher education program, field experiences were initially suspended. However, after it was announced we would be in an alternate delivery mode for the rest of the semester, we developed an online Canvas course for students to complete modules.
  3. Student teachers were encouraged to stay in their school until that school made a decision to close. Once that happened, they switched to completing modules in Canvas.

Student Teachers

First, we set our expectations for what this was going to look like for our students. Our biggest struggle was deciding on the amount of time each week they should be spending on material. On the one hand, our student teachers are in a school for 8 to 9 hours a day. But, we felt it was unreasonable to expect students to complete online modules for that many hours, especially given the uncertain circumstances. We studied SACS-COC contact hour requirements. We studied Kentucky Department of Education regulations for “non-traditional instruction” days  (the program many Kentucky school districts use to continue to provide instruction to students through virtual or other non-traditional means when schools must cancel days due to health or safety reasons).

In the end, we settled on 3-4 hours a day for a minimum of 18 hours a week. Our state tracks days for student teaching and so we landed on 210 minutes = 1 day. You can view our expectations here.The key takeaways: (1) student teachers need to engage each week day and (2) student teachers cannot work ahead. When we thought about how we prepare our teachers and the standards all our programs ascribe to, we knew we had an obligation to ask our students to engage in the practice of teaching each week day.

We held YouTube LIVE sessions for our student teachers to orient them to our plan, to assure them we were keeping them on track for graduating, and to answer all their questions. We broke them into four categories based on numbers and similar questions they might have. We encouraged program chairs to be with us in person or online to help field questions and make sure we were all on the same page. You can view the sessions here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugbuFZjdSaI

A basic script of what we followed can be found here.

Our university uses Canvas as our learning management system. We created a special Canvas Course and put every Spring 2020 student teacher in it. It is modules-based. Some are self-created while others are pulled from Canvas Commons. We invited students to tell us what else they wanted; we wanted to be sure their voice was included in what we were doing. Some have sent us additional online PD they would like to complete. That student teachers themselves have advocated for what they need to be successful in completing their requirements and learning plans. We gave them a lot of choices in the Canvas course and I think that’s what makes it unique. Many of their cooperating teachers are still engaging with their classroom students through various means. Some of the student teachers are engaged in that work and they get credit for that (e.g., online Zoom sessions for students, YouTube read-a-louds, packet planning for home work). Others are working on their Google Level 1 and 2 certification. Others are engaged in high leverage practices. Still others are working through modules on implicit bias, cultural competency, and growth mindset. This resource continues to grow daily. All 188 of our student teachers have engaged every day for a minimum of 3-4 hours. They are excited about the opportunity to stay engaged and we’re thrilled to be able to offer a stable, alternate method during a time of such uncertainty.

Practicum Students (e.g., 1-3 semesters before student teaching, but after they are admitted to a program) – Links coming soon!

Our practicum students were in the middle of their placements (most spend 4-5 continuous weeks of the semester in their school) when COVID-19 began to swiftly spread through the Commonwealth. We first suspended their placements, holding on to the faint glimmer of hope that our K-12 schools would return sometime this spring.

However, when the university made the decision to suspend in-person coursework for the remainder of the semester, we created a Canvas Course (link coming soon!) similar to the one designed for our student teachers. All of our teacher education students in the state must earn 200 hours after they are admitted to the teacher education program and before they can do their student teaching. Therefore, most of our courses are pretty well-defined in terms of the number of field hours expected. In our new plan, they simply need to complete the remaining number of field hours in the online module environment. The expectations are a bit different for this group as they are still engaged 2-3 times a week with their methods instructors. We are allowing students to complete the number of hours they need at any time prior to the end of the semester.

We know this is not a perfect solution. We know we will probably have to pivot and create contingencies for other challenges (I’m looking at you ETS…). However, we think the systems we’ve put into place for our students (a) allow for flexibility and encourage self care; (b) allow them to stay engaged in the practice of teaching while also taking care of things most important to them right now; (c) allow them to complete course requirements and teacher certification requirements so they can be eligible for graduation and certification at the end of the semester.

If you have questions or have suggestions for us, please reach out to Margaret Mohr-Schroeder, Associate Dean for Clinical Preparation and Partnerships and Professor of STEM Education, at m.mohr@uky.edu

This work would not have happened without the teamwork and effort of Rosetta Sandidge, Senior Associate Dean; Sharon Brennan, Director of Field Experiences; and our Program Chairs and Supervisors of our Teacher Education Programs (http://education.uky.edu).

To read more about UK’s response to the coronavirus, please visit http://www.uky.edu/coronavirus

Quick Links:

This is cross-posted on https://cloakinginequity.com/ and https://www.margaretmohrschroeder.com/

Hope this is helpful. Email Margaret if you have any questions.

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